Nobody dies this time. I promise. But there is a lot of blood.
This round's prompt was "Eternal". And such is my head that the first thing I thought was, 'well, what is eternal?', which instantly made me think of this song and laugh probably more than the pun truly warranted.
It also got me thinking about The Cask of Amontillado ("FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MONTRESOR!"), because of the last line: "For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them", though it turns out I'd misremembered it for nearly thirty years as, "They haven't been disturbed for centuries!", alas. And then I moved on to such things that could be considered eternal, like angels. Hence the really cool icon.
After gakking the really cool icoon, I started thinking about other possible meanings of 'Eternal', and came up with things that don't change. And then I began wondering what the opposite of that would be, and decided that it had to be finite, or mutable. And then I wrote this:
The wooden door banged open, letting in a blast of cold and wind.
"Help me!" Marybeth demanded, even though Bess was out of her rocking chair already, knitting dropped and abandoned next to the fire. Marybeth had lost her bonnet, and her sweet blonde ringlets had come loose from the demure bun she favored, hanging wild around her shoulders. There was blood in her hair, and blood on her face and all down her dress, like someone had thrown it at her. None of it was hers.
It belonged to William. Marybeth had pulled one of his arms over her shoulders so she could drag him, the other around his waist. Her tiny hands were covered in red, and William was hanging there against her like an empty sack of his father's grain.
Bess hissed in a breath as she took William's other arm, ignoring his scream of agony. Together they were able to pull him to Bess' small bed in the corner and lay him down. He cried out again as soon as his back touched the mattress, writhing like he was trying to struggle out of the pain.
"Is he dying?" Marybeth asked. Her voice was small and fretful, tears brimming in her wide blue eyes. She started wringing her hands, crumpling them in her apron, though it was far too stained to be of any use.
Bess slapped her, so hard that the girl staggered, tripped on the soaked hem of her dress and fell to her knees.
"You selfish, misbegotten bitch," Bess growled, deep in her throat. "What have you done?"
Marybeth's lush red lips drew back in a snarl, but Bess narrowed her eyes and the girl looked down at the floor. "I'm sorry, Granny," she said softly.
Bess ignored her. On the bed, William moaned through his clenched teeth. His hair was soaking, turning its normal brown to black. He stank of fear and sweat and his own blood.
Bess carefully lowered herself to her knees next to the bed, feeling her joints crackle and grind as she moved. She cupped the crown of William's head, pressing just hard enough to keep her hand steady even when he flinched. She put her other hand on his chest, just above the gaping rent spilling relentlessly into his shirt and pooling on the bedclothes.
"Will." Her voice was soft, but William turned to her instantly. His eyes opened to exhausted slits. They were as dark as deer eyes, like prey.
"You mustn't fight it, Will," Bess said. "That's why it hurts so. You'll be hale and well once you let it happen."
Will groaned, tossed his head so that he finally broke free of her. "No." The word was ground through his clenched teeth. "Never, demon--I won't--" He was taken by a fresh blast of agony before he could finish, another scream ripping his mouth open. His back arched, hands clawing uselessly at the quilt beneath him.
Marybeth started weeping.
Bess turned to look at her. She let her face show every bit of her anger. "What in God's name were you thinking, Marybeth?" she demanded. "That this would mean you could have him?"
Marybeth nodded miserably, still crying. She wiped her eyes, leaving grotesque, bloody streaks. She wouldn't raise her head. "I thought--I thought if we were the same, he'd change his mind." She did look up then, beseeching. "I just wanted him to change his mind! I didn't know this would happen!"
Bess let herself growl full, and Marybeth cringed away from her. "He never favored you!" Bess spat. "How could you think this would make a difference?" She sighed, shaking her head as she looked at William again. The boy whimpered like a puppy, weakly twisting. He was losing strength. "Only the skin changes," she said quietly. "Only the skin."
Marybeth let out a sob and raised herself onto her knees. She put her hand on Bess' shoulder, forcing the old woman to look at her. "You can't let him die!" she pleaded. Her eyes were like precious stones, shining with tears. "Please, Granny! Please!"
"'Might not have a choice about that," Bess said. She glanced over at the fire. "We need more wood."
Marybeth bit her plump bottom lip, looking back and forth between William and her grandmother. "But--"
"Wood, Marybeth," Bess snarled. "Now!"
The girl scrambled to her feet and then out the door.
Bess drew in another breath. William was panting like an animal, glaring up at her with barely-open eyes.
"Kill me," he said.
Bess smiled sadly at him. "Would that I could, little one." She put her hand in William's hair; he couldn't move away from her anymore. "But that girl, foolish as she may be, has been mine since her mother died. I love her dearly." Bess leaned forward a little, despite the protest in her back, until she was looking right into William's defiant eyes. "And I won't have her heart broke again, not even to save your soul."
William bared his teeth at her, tried to push away, but he was half-dead from blood loss and fighting the change, and even old and stiff-jointed as she was, Bess had never been weaker than any ordinary man. She let the saliva pool in her mouth, then tore what was left of Williams' shirt away from his wound.
She spat into it. The gash sizzled where it hit.
William's eyes snapped open, going round as his mouth with shock. Then he started to scream.
"That's it, that's it…." Bess cooed as William thrashed, kept screaming. She helped him as he tore at his clothing, then at the flesh it covered, until he looked to be made of nothing but blood.
His fur grew underneath like grass through new soil, thick and glossy and wet as a newborn's. A muzzle, resplendent with snow-white teeth pushed through the splitting flesh of his face. Claws snapped and bent his fingernails.
"Shhh," Bess crooned to him. She was holding him in her arms now, occasionally pulling at his old skin until it dropped away, then smoothing the fur left behind. It was brown as his hair had been, dark as a forest after rain. "That's it, that's right. Let it go, now. It's gone. It's all gone."
She heard the door crash open again, and Marybeth's cry of surprise before the thumps of logs hitting the floor.
William's eyes opened again. They were yellow as Marybeth's hair, slit and luminescent with hatred. He growled at Marybeth, low and angry. William pushed ineffectually against Bess and the bed, trying to get free from her. She held him easily. Soon enough his head fell against her breast as he lost what little was left of his strength. His paws scrabbled feebly, then went still. His eyes slid shut.
Marybeth was standing by the door, wood scattered around her and her fingertips pressed to her mouth. There was still blood on her face, and her eyes were brilliant with new, unshed tears.
"Don't just stand there like a ninny," Bess said sharply, "come help me with him."
Marybeth blinked, then rushed across the room. She bent to clasp her arms around the wolf's belly, so she could help Bess pick him up.
"In front of the fire," Bess said. "So he can dry."
"He's beautiful," Marybeth said, once they'd laid William down. She sounded awed. She knelt carefully next to him, running her fingers through his pelt. She looked at her grandmother, lower lip quivering. "Does he hate me?"
Bess nodded ruefully. "Aye," she said.
Marybeth took a breath, and more tears spilled down her cheeks. "Will he hate me forever?"
Bess leaned backward with her hands on the base of her spine, grimacing at how her back popped. "Forever's a long time," she said. "Pick up that wood, then go to the well and fetch water," she said as she straightened. "You look a fright."
Marybeth nodded numbly and began gathering up the tinder she'd brought, stacking it neatly in the corner.
"I'm sorry," she said softly.
"It's not me you need to tell," Bess said.
Marybeth finished staking the wood in silence. "I'll go get water," she whispered, and then disappeared out the door again, silent as a ghost.
Bess sighed, then stripped off her dress, carelessly dropping it to the floor. It was ruined anyway, what with all the blood. She kicked it a little closer to William--might as well get him used to her scent.
Then Bess neatly tore off her skin, letting it drop like the dress. Her fur was as grey as the hair on her human body, and her joints ground and ached, but she was used to it. She hardly noticed the twinges as she padded the few steps to the fire.
She curled up next to the young wolf and began methodically licking his fur clean. The taste of his blood made her stomach grumble, but that was easy enough to ignore. When Marybeth had cleaned herself, Bess would tell the girl to go hunting. They had another mouth to feed, after all.
Bess gently teased out a knot with her teeth, then licked the blood away. William whined in his sleep, and his paws twitched, like he was dreaming of running.